JEFFERSON-Most inmates come to the Ashe County Detention Center on a short-term basis.
The majority of these low level offenders find themselves in jail as they await trial or to serve short sentences for lesser charges that don’t require prison time. None of these inmates are expected to remain at the jail for years at a time.
Then there is the case of 79-year-old Alvious Fred Church.
Church has spent the vast majority of the past 12 years behind bars in the Ashe County Jail, according to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams.
He has not been convicted of any crime. He’s not even serving a court ordered sentence although Williams said he’s effectively serving a life term because he remains in limbo as the judicial system tries to finalize a conclusion in his case.
Church was charged with murdering his wife in February 2004 in West Jefferson. Williams, who wasn’t in office at the time of the homicide, doesn’t remember the specifics of his case, but an unpublished opinion by the N.C. Court of Appeals sheds more light on the circumstances surrounding the murder.
During a March 2010 hearing, Church’s son, Jimmy, testified that his father had called him on Feb. 7, 2004 and said “something bad” had happened and that the was planning to shoot himself.
Jimmy went to his parents’ home and found his father with a gun in his pocket. Church told his son that his wife was “back there” in the hallway and referred to the shooting. When authorities arrived, they found the body of Church’s wife at the end of the hallway, according to the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Church was soon thereafter charged with murder, but that is about as far as the state got with its case.
“When he was charged with murder, he was sent for mental evaluations and ruled incompetent to stand trial,” said Williams. “You can’t turn him loose because he’s charged with murder, but you can’t try him either. He’s basically pulling a life sentence pre-trial. He will probably die in jail.”
Since his arrest, Church has been shuttled back and forth between various mental health institutions and the county jail. His name continues to reappear on the local court docket, but the outcome remains the same and Church is routinely returned to his nearby cell.
Various appeals concerning his involuntary commitment have been heard but the district attorney’s office has not made much headway in resolving the case.
His stay in the Ashe County Jail hasn’t come cheap, either.
Williams estimates that he has cost the county in excess of $20,000 in medical bills alone including implanting a pacemaker in Church’s chest on the taxpayers’ dime.
Williams said the county attempted to utilize Medicaid to help pay his medical expenses, but Church’s murder charge stands in the way of help from the federal level.
“He’s just languishing in jail,” said Williams.
There has been some discussion that the district attorney’s office may have Church reevaluated, but that has yet to come to fruition, he said.
A message seeking comment from the district attorney’s office in Wilkesboro was not returned as of press-time.